Even as other states get in the pool, Colorado's marijuana industry continues to make a splash, with well over 500 retail dispensary licenses in the state. About a third of those are for addresses in Denver, which remains at the top of the cannabis food chain.
All of that chum in the water has raised some fat sharks, with a handful of early adapters growing to chains with outlets in the double digits.These companies aren't just the largest legal marijuana retailers in Colorado; they're also some of the largest legal marijuana retailers in the world. Here are the big six, in order of their store count:
Native Roots has grown quickly since opening on the 16th Street Mall in 2009, spreading to stores in Summit County, dispensaries in Boulder, Longmont and Trinidad, and three Gas and Grass shops (medical marijuana dispensary/gas station hybrids) in Colorado Springs. In the Denver area alone, the company has eleven locations (the Dandelion, a dispensary in Boulder, is owned by Native Roots), all known for inexpensive flower and skate-shop vibes. Native Roots closed its original dispensary on 16th Street Mall over a zoning dispute with the City of Denver, but the store reopened as a hemp and CBD boutique.
The Green Solution
The Green Solution's retail experience is one of the most user-friendly in Colorado, with a vast but organized inventory of mostly in-house products, all of which customers can pre-order online. Thirteen of the Green Solution's dispensaries are in the Denver area, with more stores in Fort Collins, Silver Plume and Trinidad. The brand opened another location in Sheridan last November, and a new store in Pueblo in 2018. The Green Solution also has dispensaries in Illinois.
Half of LivWell's fourteen dispensaries are in the Denver area, but the company also serves the rural crowd, with locations in Cortez, Garden City, Mancos and Trinidad. Founded in 2009, LivWell has run one of the largest seed-to-sale businesses since recreational sales began in 2014 in Colorado. Owner John Lord is usually steps ahead of his competitors when it comes to scaling his business, partnering with Snoop Dogg for branded lines of flower, edibles and concentrates to make LivWell the first dispensary with celebrity-endorsed cannabis products. The company also has a store in Oregon, and recently acquired an ownership stake in an Alberta, Canada, cannabis producer.
Green Dragon has been growing since it consolidated with its sister brand, Greenwerkz. It opened a new store in Telluride despite the town's current dispensary scene not being too thrilled with its presence, and it opened a new dispensary in Thornton in 2018 for a larger presence in the suburbs. Although Green Dragon has had multiple locations in Summit County and Glenwood Springs since 2014, its rise in the Mile High is relatively new. After opening two Aurora shops and taking over several Denver dispensaries in the past two years, Green Dragon now has six locations in the metro area, and the Thornton store will make seven.
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Starbuds has never taken its brand too seriously, naming itself and fashioning its logo as a parody of Starbucks; one of the coffee shops sits just across the street from the original Starbuds on East Evans Avenue. The dispensary brand has been one of the larger chains in the state since 2015, with locations spanning Denver and southern Colorado — but after opening stores in new stores in Aurora and Longmont, it can count itself among the top five. Starbuds is also present in other states, with dispensaries in Maryland and Oklahoma.
The last two chains to grace the bottom of this list, Sweet Leaf and Strainwise, have either vastly scaled back operations or completely left the dispensary business, for very different reasons. Lightshade, however, seems to be thriving, opening a handful of new locations in metro Denver over the past few years. Although the brand lost out on one of four dispensary licenses available in Longmont in 2018, expect to see the expansion continue.